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Amsterdam, which means “dam on the river Amstel” is the official capital of the Netherlands, yet it is not alone in this arduous responsibility. The Dutch city of The Hague is the country’s main political and legal centre and is the site of the government, the law courts and the Dutch parliament.
Amsterdam’s way of being and thinking have arisen from the historical changes that have taken place in the country, from its port, which is open to the world, and from its different successive religions. A brief look at history is therefore necessary to understand the city.
Legend holds that Amsterdam was established by two Friesian fishermen who arrived in these lands after having been shipwrecked at the point where the IJ and the Amstel meet. That was in the early thirteenth century and they were the pioneers of the city.
The official date for the city’s foundation is 27 October 1275, the first time it was officially mentioned in a document. 25 years later, in 1300, the town was awarded city rights and thereupon officially became the city Amsterdam.
In just a few years, in the early fourteenth century, the city had already began to flourish as a great commercial centre, particularly because of the relations it had established with other Dutch and German cities.
Later, in 1345, there occurred a eucharistic miracle near the city’s Kalverstraat: a host was recovered intact from a brazier. From that time onwards, Amsterdam became a centre of pilgrimage. Even today, in fact, a silent procession periodically recalls the episode.
During the fifteenth century, in 1421 and 1452, two great fires checked the city’s process of growth, and mercilessly devastated civil and religious buildings.
It was also in the fifteenth century that the imperial crown was added to the city’s coat of arms, which thitherto had only featured three Saint Andrew’s crosses. The crown on the coat of arms was a gift from the Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg, who was grateful to the city for the loans and privileges it had granted him.
Spanish domination prevailed in the sixteenth century, first with Charles V, who suppressed the German-origin Anabaptist movement, which did not accept the validity of child baptisms.
In Holland, an increasing number of people were professing the Protestant faith, and there were constant demands for Protestant religious services. Margaret of Parma, regent of the Spanish Netherlands rode out the storm. Protestant Calvinists staged a rebellion that triggered off a wave of iconoclasm throughout the Netherlands, the churches of which were affected and lost much of their wealth and decoration.
The Dutch rebellion against the Spaniards, from 1568 onwards, culminated in a war that lasted 80 years. Several provinces took part in the revolt, although Amsterdam remained neutral until 1578, when it joined Prince William of Orange, a German, on the side of the Protestants.
The Catholics were expelled and their institutions were dismantled. The union of the Seven United Provinces was thus created. This ceased to acknowledge Phillip II as king and established itself as a Republic. The territory became well-known for its tolerance, and Amsterdam took in a large number of immigrants; rich merchants from Antwerp and Jews from Portugal, who were fleeing persecution.
With the seventeenth century came a period of wealth, a true Golden Century for Amsterdam, which became one of the world’s richest cities. Ships set sail from the city bound for the Indies, Japan, Ceylon, and Indonesia, and a world commercial network was created. At that time, the capital was Europe’s main commercial port and the world’s largest financial centre.
A quick look at how the population increased in this period from 105,000 inhabitants in 1622 to 200,000 in 1675 is evidence of its prosperity.
In the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries, the Dutch Republic waged war with the United Kingdom and France, and this weakened it considerably.
At the Treaty of Breda, signed at the end of one of the wars between the Seven United Provinces and the United Kingdom, the Dutch lost many of their colonies. In the Napoleonic Wars, the French snatched fortunes in Amsterdam and imposed their rule on the Netherlands.
After the uprising and triumph against the French, the Kingdom of the Netherlands was definitively established in 1815.
In the late nineteenth century, Amsterdam witnessed its second Golden Century and a railway station and a music theatre were built. The Industrial Revolution also arrived in the city and in spite of initial difficulties, the economic situation began to improve immediately and the population grew once again. New canals, sea channels and new residential districts were also built before the First World War.
In contemporary times, Amsterdam suffered the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. The persecution of the Jews and of the non-Jewish Dutch people who protected them was devastating, and over a hundred thousand people were deported to concentration camps. The case of Anne Frank became famous because of her diary.
In 1945, the devastated Netherlands were liberated by the allies, and during the nineteen-fifties prosperity returned.
The nineteen-sixties and -seventies saw different revolutions featuring, for example, the Provos, who were the first radical Dutch counterculture group and who demonstrated against Princess Beatrix.
It was at that time that liberal drug policies turned Amsterdam into a progressive Hippie haven, which continued throughout the nineteen-eighties with the expansion of the controversial and much talked about squatter movement.
Today, on a walk through Amsterdam, the city’s magnificent past can still be sensed in its narrow streets, its majestic squares, and in its parks and palaces. However, the city does not live from the past or from the picturesque appearance of its dolls houses or cobbled courtyards.
It is currently one of Europe’s great capitals, an international financial and cultural centre with laws and a society that make it a clear model of tolerance and modernity.
Albert Cuyp Market (41)
Tuschinski Theatre (50)
Felix Meritis Huis (22)
Magere Brug (25)
Portuguese Synagogue (18)
The Antiques District (35)
He Hwa Temple and Amsterdam's China Town (5)
Magna Plaza (46)
Sint Nicolaaskerk - Church of Saint Nicholas (48)
The Charm of the Jordaan District (37)